While New Haven-based advocacy groups joined tens of thousands demanding comprehensive reform at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Immigration Customs Enforcement officials continued arrests of undocumented immigrants across Connecticut.
In an operation that commenced Saturday, 27 undocumented immigrants, including two from New Haven, were taken into ICE custody. New Haven-based immigration attorney Glenn Formica, who described the arrests as a “massive sweep,” told the News that his office has recently witnessed an unusual uptick in calls from potential clients, many of whom have been arrested at their homes without any prior warning.
In a Tuesday release, ICE spokesman Ross Feinstein explained that the arrests targeted convicted criminals that threaten public safety.
“These administrative immigration arrests in Connecticut — conducted by officers with ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) — are part of an on-going enforcement action targeting at-large, criminal aliens and others who pose threats to the community,” Feinstein said in the release.
But Formica said he is skeptical that all of the recent arrests targeted violent criminals. Megan Fountain ’07, an organizer for immigrant rights advocacy group Unidad Latina en Acción, said that ICE’s policies are “smoke and mirrors.” She said that half of the individuals deported in Connecticut in 2012 had no criminal record. Of those deported, one-quarter had been convicted for traffic violations and one-fifth had been convicted of nonviolent, immigration-related crimes, she added.
ICE targets undocumented immigrants who have committed “aggravated felonies” — a categorization of offenses that bars noncitizens from relief that would spare them deportation, including asylum, and readmittance into the United States, regardless of immigration status. But according to the Immigration Policy Center, many nonviolent misdemeanors are designated aggravated felonies under current immigration laws.
Formica emphasized that national immigration reform should allow undocumented individuals convicted of a crime and facing deportation proceedings to state their case and demonstrate why they should still be entitled to permanent resident status. The decision to grant them such status, he said, should rest with either the local ICE office or an immigration judge.
“[ICE is] just trashing families,” Formica said. “If someone makes one mistake and gets classified as an aggravated felon, there is little I can do for them as an immigration lawyer.”
Formica’s office has taken on three clients in the wake of the recent swath of arrests and has heard from an additional 10 potential clients requesting his services. But while Formica denounced sweeping arrests that seek to create a “general atmosphere of tension” in the community, he said that the local ICE branch is not exercising intimidation tactics — rather, it is simply proceeding with standard operations. Feinstein also rebutted claims that ICE conducts indiscriminate “raids” or “sweeps.”
“People shouldn’t be sleeping under their beds,” Formica said in an attempt to allay concern. “ICE is not going out and grabbing people.”
Formica also acknowledged that the local ICE branch has treated his clients humanely — they were not “roughed up” or humiliated and were handled respectfully. But Fountain said that ICE could face backlash for making the arrests at the immigrants’ homes, citing a group of New York immigrants who won lawsuits against ICE after officials raided their homes and used disingenuous tactics to arrest them.
According to ICE federal removal statistics, 55 percent, or 225,390, of the people removed in fiscal year 2012 were convicted criminal aliens — the largest number of criminal aliens removed in one year agency history.